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By Carmen Ensinger
Driving through White Hall after dark, one might notice a little something different when passing Garden Park – the three murals which sit at the back of the park are now illuminated thanks to the efforts of the North Greene Garden Club and some North Greene High School students.
“It has always been our goal, from day one, that we would have lights over them to make them visible at night,” Garden Club Member Sue Vinyard said. “It has just taken us this long to get our finances to a point and everything in order to be able to get them.”
The estimated cost of the lighting project is around $1,500, but it would have been a lot more were it not for the help of the North Greene summer work program.
North Greene had 23 students enrolled in a summer work program through the Job Center that paid them to do work around the district giving them both valuable work experience and spending money at no cost to the district.
“We asked Chuck McEvers, who heads up the program, if he and his students could help us install the lights and that saved us quite a bit of money because we didn’t have to pay an electrician to install them,” Vinyard said. “The way it was, we paid around $800 for the lights and about another $700 for the materials to have them installed.”
The North Greene Garden Club turns to the high school students often when they need help with their many projects around town, such as planting the pots around town in the Spring and other things the Club does to keep the town “blooming.”
“We have found that if the kids are involved and helping that they take pride in our projects and in their town,” Vinyard said. “And when they take pride in something, you see a lot less vandalism. Plus, I just think that you need to involve young people in things around the community so they will take pride in their community. If we don’t get them interested now, they are not going to follow through in their adult life.”
Vinyard isn’t sure when the three panel murals were installed, but knows the project was already under way when she and her husband moved back to White Hall in 2007.
“Kae Coates actually started this project nearly 20 years ago,” Vinyard said. “The city and a committee from the Garden Club first explored the idea of a mural with the development of landscaping on the corner lot of what used to be known as the Grange Block.”
The committee sponsored a contest for sketches and ideas with little result, but in the meantime an estimate had been received for doing the mural on the side of what used to be the Campbell Publications news office. After seeing this estimate, the city dropped the idea.
Preparing the wall of the Campbell building would have been very expensive and providing room and board for the artist, Holly Golwitz-Gregg, while she painted the mural. However, she could paint the mural on wood panels in her own studio and then deliver them all at once, which is what was done.
The three murals depict life in early White Hall. The panel at the south end of the row includes a hotel painted white and a stage pulling up. As the story goes, White Hall got its name because the stagecoach driver would pull into town calling out, “Next stop at the white hall”. Prior to that, the town had been called Loafer’s Grove. That hotel later became known as the Amos Hotel.
The first panel also includes the pagoda for Whiteside Park and the statue of Annie Louise Keller by Lorado Taft, who grew up in White Hall. Keller, who was a teacher at the Centerville School near Carrollton, lost her life in the tornado of 1927, but saved the lives of her students.
The smokestacks and the roofline of the “Big Shop” loom in the background of this panel, along with the rounded tops of the kilns once located up and down the railroad. White Hall’s kilns were once touted as the largest in the world.
The center panel is a tribute to the soldiers who came home from the Civil War to establish homes, families and businesses that in turn built the town of White Hall. They also raised the money needed to erect the Soldiers and Sailors Monument which stands in the White Hall Cemetery. The cemetery was established south of town as bodies of fallen soldiers were returned home during the Civil War. The figure in the left foreground pays homage to Edward L. Hagar, remembered as the “Drummer Boy.”
The small barn in the background on this panel is representative of the round hole window barns attributed to a builder who had been a former Confederate ship builder named Joe Minch. He settled in Greene County after the Civil War building barns with porthole windows.
The building known as the Grange Block, which stood on the site now occupied by the murals, is remembered with the time of commerce in the city with people bustling on Main Street and the side streets regularly going about their business and banking.
Abraham Lincoln did not wear a beard until the Civil War, but he is pictured on this mural with a beard so his identity would be easily recognized. He came through White Hall often visiting family and friends in Hank’s Station, Patterson, White Hall and Carrollton. Stoneware placed next to the fence post again reminds us of the industry.
The barns depicted in this picture were chosen because they are unique in different ways. The red barn at the top of the panel was built for an award-winning stallion named Carnot. The barn is located south of town at Gregory Farm. The round barn initiated the barn tours promoted by Greene County Days and is constructed of the tile from the local tile industry. It is the only round barn in the county and is located on the Price farm west of town.
The third barn is particularly unique because it is a much different type of structure and also because it has been identified as a stop on the Underground Railroad. In recent years, a false wall and a secret room were discovered. The quilt block square hung at the end of the barn is the North Star pattern and reportedly led those seeking freedom north. The barn is located southwest of town on the Schutz farm.